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Champions League preview: Arsenal need some Saka magic against Sevilla

By on November 7, 2023

Bukayo-Saka-arsenal

Arsenal need to put a disappointing week behind them and focus on beating Sevilla in the group stages of the Champions League at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night.

The club have come under fire in recent days after backing Mikel Arteta after his outburst at the standard of officiating following Arsenal’s controversial 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United on Saturday night. Arteta slammed the decision to let Newcastle’s goal stand as ‘disgraceful’ and the club release a statement backing their manager.

It hasn’t gone down well in the media, but it’s impossible not to see where Arteta is coming from. Arsenal have been on the wrong end of countless bad decisions over the years, and once again we were undone by some ridiculous officiating at St James’ Park. In an extremely tight game, fine margins were always going to decide things and the big calls went against Arsenal.

Kai Havertz may have been slightly fortunate not to receive a red for his wild lung but for VAR not to intervene on Bruno Guimaraes’ violent off-the-ball elbow to Jorginho’s head was baffling. With the score at 0-0, had Bruno been rightly sent off Arsenal would not have lost that game, and would have had a great chance to collect three vital points. Then came the really controversial moment, when Anthony Gordon’s winning ‘goal’ was allowed to stand. This, despite replays showing a clear two handed shove by Joelinton on Gabriel Magalhaes as he attempted to clear before Gordon slammed home the loose ball. Forget the ball being out of play, the possible handball or offside, the foul on Gabriel was enough for VAR to rule the goal out. But they chose not to, and for that alone Arteta had every right to call the officials out.

The defeat has left Arsenal sitting fourth in the table, three points behind leaders Man City. We all know how hard it is to beat Pep Guardiola’s men to the title, and Arteta knows we couldn’t afford to lose three valuable points to poor officiating….again. It’s hard to see big decisions going our way after Arteta’s outburst as the PGMOL protects their own, but the boss probably felt he had no other choice after years of shocking refereeing in this country.

However, Arteta needs to put all that behind him and focus on getting back on track with a win over Sevilla on Wednesday night. Arsenal came away with a vital win in Spain two weeks ago that’s left us sitting top of Group B. We’re just one point above Lens but four ahead of Sevilla/PSV so we could secure safe passage to the knockout stages with a win if Lens beat PSV tomorrow.

Sevilla can be a dangerous side on their day but they’ve won just one of their last eight matches in all competitions – and that was against minnows Quintanar in the Copa del Rey – so Arsenal should be confident of beating them at the Emirates. The La Liga outfit desperately need a win to boost their hopes of qualifying from the group, so they should come to play which should suit us.

Understandably, after just returning to Europe’s elite competition after six years in the wilderness, Champions League tickets have been hard to come by for Arsenal fans this season. This is a big game for the club so I expect a packed house at the Emirates on Wednesday night.

Injury woes

It’s fair to say Arsenal haven’t been at their free-flowing best going forward this season and injuries have had a lot to do with it. Gabriel Jesus has struggled to stay fit and the Brazilian is once again set to miss out against Sevilla due to a hamstring injury. He’s being assessed but Arteta won’t rush him back and Jesus could also miss Saturday’s Premier League clash with Burnley.

Martin Odegaard was sorely missed at Newcastle as we struggled to create in the final third. The skipper is nursing a hip injury and is a doubt to face Sevilla on Wednesday night.

Gabriel Martinelli is also still working his way back to his best form after recently recovering from a hamstring injury while Bukayo Saka is also not 100% following a few niggles. The England international didn’t look fully fit against Newcastle but Arsenal desperately need Saka to rediscover his top form asap. The 22-year-old is Arsenal’s most important attacking player and with Jesus and Odegaard out, Arteta will look to Saka to be his creator against Sevilla.

Thomas Partey has been another huge miss for the Gunners. The midfielder is facing weeks on the sidelines after picking up a fresh muscle injury in training last week. That comes as he was on the verge of making his return from a groin injury that hampered him during September and October.

Emile Smith Rowe is also facing a month on the treatment table due to a knee injury that he sustained in training so Arsenal will be without another creative player for the foreseeable future.

Arteta desperately needs his key players to be back to full fitness as soon as possible, as the last thing we need is injuries derailing another promising campaign.

Freshen things up?

I’m sure the boss would like to rotate on Wednesday night but the squad is already stretched. We don’t have too much room for maneuver in attack so Saka and Martinelli are expected to start once again. Eddie Nketiah was poor against Newcastle but he’s the only proper striker we have available right now.¬†Leandro Trossard is an option but he’s more suited out wide so I expect Nketiah to keep his place on Wednesday night.

We also don’t have too many options to change things in midfield with Partey, Smith Rowe and Odegaard out. Jorginho is therefore likely to keep his place alongside Declan Rice in the middle of the park. The one change we may see if Fabio Vieira coming in for Kai Havertz.

In defence, we’re likely to see Oleksandr Zinchenko recalled in place of Takehiro Tomiyasu at left-back. Otherwise, I expect the same back four that started against Newcastle with Ben White, William Saliba and Gabriel keeping their places.

Personally, I’d like to see Aaron Ramsdale recalled in goal as I really don’t see how David Raya has been an upgrade. However, Arteta is likely to stick with his countryman.

Probably Arsenal XI: Raya; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko; Jorginho, Rice, Vieira; Saka, Martinelli, Nketiah

Prediction

This is a big game for Arsenal. After crashing out the EFL Cup to West Ham and losing in the league to Newcastle, we need to get back to winning ways against Sevilla. Victory would put us within touching distance of the knockout stages of the Champions League, and we may even secure that objective if Lens beat PSV.

Sevilla are a decent side with some dangerous players, but we showed in Spain two weeks ago that we’re better than them and Arsenal should have too much quality on home soil. Arsenal 2-1 Sevilla